Controversy Over Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize Resurfaces

Controversy Over Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize for Literature has seen its share of controversy, and records recently released from the Swedish Academy’s archives would suggest this isn’t a new state of affairs.

In 1962, American literary giant John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, beating a shortlist of 66 authors including the likes of French dramatist Jean Anouilh, Danish author Karen Blixen, and British authors Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell. But the choice was not an easy one, according to committee member Henry Olsson:

There aren't any obvious candidates for the Nobel prize and the prize committee is in an unenviable situation.

So, rather than give it to no one, they chose a winner whose victory would be widely criticised by the press on both sides of the pond, mainly because Steinbeck’s most influential works had been published decades before. Graves was discounted by the committee because he was more of a poet than a novelist; Blixen had the audacity to die the September before the award; and Durrell’s work had a “preoccupation with erotic complications.”

And as Steinbeck had been previously nominated 8 times, maybe they thought they’d throw him a bone for his 1961 novel The Winter of Our Discontent. The author appears to have been surprised by it, too. When asked if he deserved the Nobel, he replied: "Frankly, no."

Would it have been more honest to not award the Nobel that year? Did Steinbeck deserve it? I tend to take these prize thingies with a pinch of salt -- I rarely agree with the winners of literary awards these days…

Dean Fetzer

News by Dean Fetzer

Dean Fetzer is originally from a small town in eastern Colorado, but has lived in London, England, for the past 21 years. After a career in graphic design, he started a pub review website in the late 90’s; He left that in 2011 to concentrate on his thriller writing, as well as offering publishing services for authors, poets and artists. When not writing - or in the pub - he can be found in the theatre, live music venues and travelling.

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Ruxandra Grecu's picture
Ruxandra Grecu January 7, 2013 - 7:55am

what do you mean no Nobel Prize last year? You forgot Mo Yan?

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine January 7, 2013 - 8:11am

Oops. That was the Pulitzer. Thanks.

April Victoria's picture
April Victoria from California is reading Mortal Ties by Eileen Wilks January 7, 2013 - 8:23am

The more I read classics the more I come to respect and appreciate the way in which Steinbeck crafts his works. East of Eden is an oft overlooked gem.

J. Ramsey Golden's picture
J. Ramsey Golden from Alaska is reading The Dain Curse. The Artful Edit. January 7, 2013 - 10:39pm

One of the greatest American novelists of all times. But it seems that "deserves" got little to do with the Nobel Prize. Much of it is politics and PR. It's like arguing who deserves an Oscar -- too subjective for anyone to be right.